Bessie, Satchmo, and Bird: Chickens Freed from Tiny Tank

Aquarium chickens
Bessie, Satchmo, and Bird were kept in an aquarium until their rescue.

Bessie, Satchmo, and Bird spent the first four months of their lives in an aquarium on a third-floor apartment balcony in Los Angeles County. The tank was cleaned only twice a week, and its only ventilation was its mesh top. The three were newborns when they were purchased on a whim at a Los Angeles swap-meet, along with a fourth chick who died soon after the sale.

Though the aquarium may have provided sufficient space for the birds when they were chicks, they quickly outgrew it, experiencing over-crowding akin to that within an egg-industry battery cage. Their caregivers did eventually upgrade their accommodations — to a 36”x18”x17” aquarium.  This tank, barely large enough for any of them to take more than a step or two, was their entire world – a hot and stuffy, glass-walled world. The chickens were without food all day. They were given water in a bowl that easily tipped over, leaving them without any water for hours at a time.

Aquarium chickens
The chickens’ only source of ventilation was a mesh aquarium cover.

In addition to their disregard for their animals’ welfare, the chicks’ caregivers were blissfully unaware that Satchmo and Bird, still peeping with their baby voices, were young roosters. The boys would soon begin to crow, which no doubt would have provoked the consternation of neighbors and likely brought law enforcement to the door.

Disposable Birds

The plight of Bessie, Satchmo, and Bird illustrates some of the many pitfalls of the booming backyard chicken trend.

Many hobbyists view their backyard flocks as simply a free and steady source of extremely local eggs. Concerned primarily with how the flock will benefit them, they do not consider their responsibility to the chickens, who require appropriate housing, nutrition, sanitation, and veterinary care and who will suffer in the absence of these necessities. At the extreme of this approach are those who, like the caregivers of Bessie, Satchmo, and Bird, acquire live animals with no forethought and subsequently fail to provide for even their most basic needs. The perception of farm animals as mere commodities is so pervasive that some humans can fail to empathize with animals they see every day. Bessie, Satchmo, and Bird were trapped not only in a stifling tank but also in a category of being excluded from the circle of their caregivers’ compassion.

Aquarium chickens
The chickens’ living situation prior to their rescue.

Chicks purchased through catalogs, online shops, and feed stores (any of which could be the original source of Bessie, Satchmo, and Bird) are born at large, industrial hatcheries just like those patronized by factory farms. At these facilities, chicks are treated not as the delicate newborns they are but like any inanimate product making its way through a production line. At a day old, they are shipped through the postal service in cardboard boxes, a harrowing and sometimes fatal journey of up to 72 hours.

The Rooster Problem

The vast majority of these boxes ostensibly contain only female chicks. Roosters don’t lay eggs, and in many areas it is illegal to keep them. Still, male chicks end up in shipments all the time, sometimes due to sexing errors and sometimes due to the practice of using them as packing material. The male chicks who are not shipped out are ground up alive, suffocated, or killed in some other brutal manner dictated by efficiency and thrift.

And the roosters who find their way to hobby flocks? Their trouble is just beginning. Once they get old enough to crow, they face abandonment. Some are “released” in urban, suburban, or rural settings, exposed to death by predation, traffic accidents, starvation, or exposure. Others are dumped at overburdened municipal shelters, which don’t have the resources to keep them in the long-term. Rescue organizations like Farm Sanctuary have been inundated with rooster placement requests over the past several years. We take as many as we can, but the territorial needs of roosters limit our capacity for them. When we learned about Bessie, Satchmo, and Bird, all of our shelters were at their limit. We could only take in these birds if we knew we had an adoptive home lined up for them.

Miyoko Schinner with her rescue chickens
Miyoko with her rescued flock.

Say “Cheese!”

National Placement Coordinator Alicia Pell turned to our Farm Animal Adoption Network (FAAN), reaching out to adopters throughout California and adjacent states in hopes of finding a home for the two roosters and their hen pal. Success was no sure thing — many adopters live in areas where roosters are illegal, and many of those who are allowed to have roosters are at their limit. After contacting every local member, however, Alicia hit the jackpot: FAAN member Miyoko Schinner offered the trio a home.

Gourmet restaurateur and vegan food expert Miyoko is the founder and chairperson of Miyoko’s Kitchen, well-known for its decadent vegan cheese alternatives. In addition to aiding the cause of farm animals through her culinary enterprises, Miyoko also personally cares for several rescued animals. She has a flock of seven companion hens, and hopes to adopt other animals as well. When she learned that Bessie, Satchmo, and Bird needed a home, she welcomed them to hers.

Miyoko tells us, “I didn’t know before we started adopting chickens how complex their vocabulary was. Since then, I’ve learned the meaning of their different sounds and how they communicate to each other to warn about predators, to announce the laying of an egg, to tell others when they’ve found a tasty treat. We underestimate the ability of farm animals to have language just because it’s different from ours or our companion animals… They are as different in personality as any humans or companion animals. We just lump them all together as chickens because most of us don’t have the opportunity to get to know them.”

Miyoko was a life-saver for Bessie, Satchmo, and Bird. If you’re interested in saving and transforming the lives of animals in need by offering them a permanent home, we’d love to hear from you! Please check out our FAAN page to learn more about home adoption and fill out an application.

Miyoko Schinner's rescue chickens
Bird and Satchmo with one of their new flockmates.